Counting the Ways by Edward Albee (Face Front Inclusive Theatre) 21 May 2010
As suggested by its title, derived from the Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, Counting the Ways is a play about love, in this case the tired love between a couple who have been together for many years. You sense there might be trouble when the simple question, 'Do you love me?' causes anxiety and insecurity in them both, even when the answer is a casual 'Of course.'
Face Front Inclusive Theatre has presented Counting the Ways as accessibly as possible. Audio-described and performed in parallel in sign language but as an integral part of the action, the play is indeed a multi-sensory experience. Albee's work is often linked to that of Beckett and the company are clearly at home with the absurdist, physical theatre elements of much of the action. Ilan Dwek and Jean St Clair as 'He' and 'She' excel in this regard, at times displaying a delightful chemistry together. Wayne 'Pickles' Norman deftly flits in and out of the action as the audio-describer, his 'interior monologue' asides often dream-like and at times hilarious. The many layers of accessibility are not always simultaneous, and this leads to moments of delight and comedy.
On a bright, slightly surreal set, beautifully designed by Jo Paul, the married couple are also well played by Jon French and Catrin Menna. Despite the games they play to spice things up a little, their love has wilted, rather like the roses with which they play 'She loves me, she loves me not'. They have imperceptibly 'passed through' their love for each other, rather than it dying, to the extent that they're not entirely sure how many children they have or how exactly they've ended up sleeping in separate beds. At least they're not in separate rooms.
Perhaps the slight drawback is that the play is somewhat insubstantial. It asks some interesting questions but doesn't pursue them, and its metaphors are laboured through repetition – in particular the wilting of the flowers. The cast take time out to introduce themselves warmly to the audience, and there is an excellently played cameo about social etiquette, but these tableaus come across rather as fillers, and the play as a whole, at around an hour long, is more of a delicious hors d'oeuvre, arguably leaving the audience impressed but slightly hungry for more.
Verdict: Queen of Herts (3 out of 5)
22 May 10